The House at the Edge of Magic

The House at the Edge of Magic

The House at the Edge of Magic










The House at the Edge of Magic 


The Tower at the End of Time


Walker Books, 2021-2022

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

Crouched behind the stacked crates of the fishmonger’s stall in the market, Nine’s muscles are tensed, her senses alert waiting for just the right moment to snatch the lady’s handbag… For the streets are her world and stealing treasures for Pockets, the leader of the gang, is her life and she knows all the tricks of pickpocketing and all the twists and turns of the alleys and lanes  back to the Nest of a Thousand Treasures. He’s called her Nine because she in the ninth member of the gang, offering her a place to sleep and the odd meal in exchange for the things she steals.  

But Nine dreams of bigger things, a better life and when she steals a house-shaped ornament from a mysterious woman’s purse, things begin to change… She knocks on its tiny door and watches in wonder as it grows into a huge, higgledy-piggledy house squeezes between its neighbours. Inside are characters as strange as the house – Eric the housekeeper troll who is lost without his feather duster; a Scottish wooden spoon who wields a sword and Flabberghast , a young wizard who’s particularly competitive at hopscotch… But they have all been put under a spell by a wicked witch, a spell that only Nine can help them break before the clock winds down and which, while offering her a better life means she will have to sacrifice the thing that is dearest to her…

While the time and place of this new three-part series aren’t identified, it is reminiscent of the Dickensian world of Oliver Twist and Fagin but with magic and fantasy thrown in. But there the similarities end for Nine is not Oliver – she is clever, smart and thanks to her visits to the local library where she is actually welcomed, very well-read, and her willingness to save her new “friends” is more about giving herself a prosperous future than any altruistic concerns for them. She is determined to find the strawberries that Pockets says don’t exist… But then, given her life so far she has never known friendship and kindness and her defensiveness and self-interest have been built on the walls of self-protection. So, if she succeeds in breaking the spell, will she be able to just walk away with her prize?  

There is a plethora of fantasy books in the children’s book market at the moment with characters and plots whose limits know only the bounds of their authors’ imaginations, but this one stands out because of Nine and her emotional growth as she begins to understand that there is more to life than the untold wealth promised by the glowing jewels imprisoned by the witch’s spell.  The characters are not scary and unimaginable – we can all picture a troll, a wizard and a wicked witch and what can be confronting about a game of hopscotch?

As soon as she saw them on my desk, Miss 11 claimed these for herself and had her nose in them – now she must wait patiently for the third and final, although its title and release date remain as mysterious as Flabberghast’s house.  

Tashi and the Stolen Forest

Tashi and the Stolen Forest

Tashi and the Stolen Forest











Tashi and the Stolen Forest

Anna & Barbara Fienberg

Kim Gamble

Allen & Unwin, 2020

96pp., pbk., RRP $A2.99


Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a little boy was finally born to a couple who so desperately wanted a child that after consulting Wise-As-An-Owl the wife sipped a special mixture made for her and within a year, Tashi was born.  Right from the start he proved to be very clever and had many adventures before finally fleeing from a wicked warlord, arriving in this land on the back of a swan where he became Jack’s special friend.  Every now and then he would share an adventure with Jack and then Jack recounted these to his incredulous parents.  And so the adventures and legend of Tashi were born…

For over 25 years, the stories have fascinated young, independent readers as they are the perfect introduction to the world of fantasy and the fantastic, including almost every Year 3 class I’ve taught since the stories were first published.  Presented in a paperback format that each contained two stories, they were perfect for real-alouds as well as read-alones, so much so that in 2001 my Year 3 classes led a national Book Rap that had students from all over the country answering the questions my students had posed about the stories via online activities and emails as the power of the Internet was gradually harnessed to connect children beyond the school walls.

And now it is time for another wave of emerging, newly-independent readers to get to know this magical little fellow who has such big adventures with a new story published at a special Australia Reads price so that more children can start reading. In this stand-alone, Tashi tells about the time the old forest disappeared, and Much-to-Learn was in danger of disappearing with it! And then the whole village was threatened … Could magic sand and a certain spell help save them all? Only someone as clever as Tashi could find a way to outwit the Baron – and solve the mystery of the disappearing trees.

For those who are unfamiliar with Tashi, or who want to make sure they have all the books ready for renewed interest, you can check the list of books here – promote them to your emerging readers who will appreciate the quality stories as they begin  their journey through novels which give them the confidence and satisfaction of reading a “chapter book” for themselves.



Frankie Best Hates Quests

Frankie Best Hates Quests

Frankie Best Hates Quests











Frankie Best Hates Quests

Chris Smith

Puffin, 2022

400pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Frankie Best is not in a good mood.  Apart from the fact that her dad keeps calling her Princess, she was looking forward to spending a week with her Aunt Fi while her parents went off to the Arctic and spending the week eating pot noodles and watching You Tube but now her aunt is in hospital with a burst appendix and they’re heading to her grandfather’s house instead.  And she and her brother Joel are not looking forward to that because they hardly know him.

They are even more dismayed when they discover he lives in a ramshackle old cottage in the centre of an overgrown garden, has long white hair held in a pony tail and even though it’s 3.23 in the afternoon, he’s outside, in his pyjamas and dressing gown peering in through the window  of his house and holding a net!  How eccentric or crazy can this old man be? Things get worse as she is confronted by not only no phone signal but her grandfather doesn’t even know what wi-fi is, let alone have a code for her to access it. Or even a television.  How on earth is she going to entertain herself without her precious screen?

Well, she soon finds out when her grandfather is  kidnapped by gnoblins  and she is forced  to embark on a rescue mission across a magical realm filled with strange creatures and dangerous enemies that require her to use her ingenuity, and imagination and find inner reserves she didn’t know she had.. Can there actually be more things in the world than those that come via an internet connection? And could they actually be more important than what her ‘friends’ think?

This is another story for those who are independent readers who enjoy the currently popular genre that embraces parallel worlds populated by weird, fantastic inhabitants and becomes a good vs evil battle between them and the hero/heroine who is as ordinary as they are.  As well as the narration, the story is interspersed by Frankie’s journal entries telling the story from her perspective and the lessons about life and herself that she learns along the way – lessons that can also apply to the reader as they navigate the tricky pre-teen path to independence.   

But the serious is tempered with humour in the author’s choice of words, particularly place and creature names, and every now and then there are also detailed descriptions of some of the creatures encountered, which, if this were used as a class read-aloud, lend themselves to being used as examples for students to imagine and describe other creatures that might live in the world of Parallelia.

There are many books in this genre for this age group available at the moment – this is one of the better ones.


Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4

Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4

Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4











Brave the Storm: Skydragon 4

Anh Do

A & U Children’s, 2022

200pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


When a mysterious glowing purple ball ignites their home while they are innocently making pizzas for tea, only Amber and her brother Reggie emerge from the inferno alive but both are badly injured, Reggie in a coma. Weeks later, watching from her neighbour’s fence Amber sees what remains of her home demolished in a very hush-hush operation.

Five years later, with Reggie still in a coma and Amber reminded daily of the events because of the scar on her face, she is  the butt of nasty comments and bullying from her peers who refuse to see the girl beyond the scar. The only constant is her fascination with dragons and her only joy, the beauty of the insect world. But something very strange happens when she trips and falls while on an insect-watching excursion with her class and is surrounded by a swarm of deadly hornets…

Afterwards, Amber knows she has been given an incredible power, but was it a freak accident, or was there something she was supposed to do with it?  Controlling her new ability might be the hardest thing Amber has ever done. Especially when she is running for her life.  Who is her mysterious enemy? What connection does he have to Amber’s past? And, most importantly, does Amber have what it takes to truly become . . . Skydragon?

In this fourth episode in this series, Amber discovers that she cannot see the familiar purple glow that indicates the presence of insects. She has become used to summoning her insect friends and transforming into Skydragon at the first sign of danger, but now her powers are gone, and she’s just back to being just Amber again. Will she be able to get her powers back in time to help new friends defeat an old enemy?

Put a new Anh Do title on the New releases table and there is soon a list of reserves as children wait their turn to borrow it.  But put one from a really popular series and you are likely to be mobbed!!  Anh Do continues to be one of the most requested authors for those who are independent readers – he is one of a handful who needs nothing more than his name as the author to be a surefire hit.  So offer your students this new release and stand back and watch the negotiating and bargaining to be the first to read it… 

J. R. R. Tolkien (Little People, Big Dreams)

J. R. R. Tolkien (Little People, Big Dreams)

J. R. R. Tolkien (Little People, Big Dreams)











J. R. R. Tolkien

Little People, Big Dreams

Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara

Aaron Cushley

Frances Lincoln Children’s, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Ever since Sir Peter Jackson decided to turn the remarkable adventures of the fantastic people of Middle Earth into the most highly successful movie franchise, ordinary people have known the name of the original creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Even though John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote other stories in his lifetime, the creation of a whole new world  united in either the quest for or the safety of  the “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them” , remains his seminal work.

So for his story to be told in this popular series, recommended every time someone asks for biographies for young readers, will be a welcome addition.  

John experienced lots of change in his life from a young age. Moving from South Africa to a big city in England, he longed for the nature he grew up around. After the death of both of his parents, John found comfort in telling stories and building imaginary worlds with his friends. And he continued to tell stories for the rest of his life, creating epic tales of hobbits, dwarves, elves and wizards as J. R. R. Tolkien. Featuring stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of the writer’s life, it is one that will be sought after as young readers clamour to know more about the man who is the epitome of this year’s CBCA Book week theme, Dreaming with eyes open….


The Secret Lives of Unicorns

The Secret Lives of Unicorns

The Secret Lives of Unicorns











The Secret Lives of Unicorns

Dr Temisa Seraphini

Sophie Robin

Flying Eye, 2021 

64pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99


Every parent, or grandparent, of a young girl up to about 9 will be aware of the fascination that unicorns continue to hold, their mystique never waning. Thus this is the perfect book for those who want to find out more about who and what they really are, where they live and the various species of them.  For not all unicorns are the same with short hair and rainbow manes.

This exposé by the equally mysterious Dr Temisa Seraphina (who may or may not be the expert behind The Secret Lives of Dragons  and The Secret Lives of Mermaidsreveals everything about this magical creature from its origins and evolution to the truth about the myths and tall tales.  It shows how they are so rarely seen these days because the world is no longer what it used to be, and encourages today’s believers to think about the present day environment and what they might be able to do to improve it so unicorns can once again roam as freely as they used to.

As with the others in the series, taking a fantasy subject and treating in a factual way, just as any non fiction text on any other species, is an intriguing way of not only feeding the child’s thirst for knowledge about the particular creature but also to the concept of non fiction itself, bridging the gap between imagination and information in an absorbing way.  

About 20 years ago, a collection of books known as the Ology series which focused on a range of fantasy and not-so creatures in a similar way, began appearing, offering the newly independent readers of the time an insight into the lives and times of creatures like dragons, wizards, ghosts and others and it was the lucky looker who found one on the shelves. I predict this new series (and hopefully there are more) will be just as popular when this new generation is introduced to it, and what better way to transition from fiction to non fiction, both as reader and teacher.  


Wondermere (series)











Do Not Disturb the Dragons


Do Not Mess with the Mermaids


Michelle Robinson

Sharon Davey

Bloomsbury, 2020-2021

224pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

In the first book in this series, the reader is introduced to “Two intrepid girls go from ladies-in-waiting to knights-in-action when they rip up the rule book and go searching for adventure!”

Wondermere is the luckiest kingdom in the land, all thanks to the dragons that nest on top of the castle. Nobody wants them to fly away, so everyone has to follow the rules and make sure everything stays the same  to keep the dragons happy.  But Princess Grace hates  the rules. They stop her doing everything she loves, like playing Troll-O and wearing trousers and training to be a brave knight.. Why do boys get all the fun?

Determined to prove that the rules are a load of old swamp-rot, Grace and her sister Princess Portia secretly enter the year’s biggest Troll-O. A couple of rule-breakers couldn’t possibly disturb the dragons … could they?

Then in the second, Don’t Mess with the Mermaids Grace has proved to the kingdom of Wondermere that when it comes to courage, determination, playing TROLL-O on unicorn-back and being a brave knight, she’s just as good as any boy! But now Wondermere is expecting a very important  visitor: the Mermaid Queen of the Outer Ocean. That means frilly dresses and best behaviour – and absolutely no rule breaking.  But when a purple dragon egg falls into the moat of Wondermere castle, Grace and her sister Princess Portia find themselves babysitting a big secret.  One teeny tiny little dragon called Dennis couldn’t possibly disturb the royal visit … could he?

This is a series for newly independent readers who are straddling the fantasy worlds of dragons, unicorns, mermaids and princesses but demanding more of their reading heroes than the traditional knight-on-shining-armour-to-the-rescue plots. So while they still have those things that have fascinated them for a number of years, they are wanting the females in the stories to be more like themselves, to have the can-do attitude and determination that they themselves have and to start showing the independence that they are also exhibiting.  

Incorporating all the formatting supports needed to transition to the independent reading of novels, this series fills the gap nicely, making a strong stepping stone. 


The Secret Lives of Mermaids

The Secret Lives of Mermaids

The Secret Lives of Mermaids











The Secret Lives of Mermaids

Prof Anuk Tola

Anja Sušanj

Flying Eye Books, 2020

34pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


At the School of Merology (SoM), Professor Anuk Tola (aka Anja Sušanj has been studying the lives, habits and habitats of merpeople for many years in an attempt to be able to communicate with them and those studies have revealed that

  • The word “mermaid” is a misnomer because there is more than just one gender, their societies are large and varied, and each is a unique individual
  • Merpeople are “a highly complex, curious, social, fierce, intelligent and incredibly secretive” species and what little is known has taken hundreds of years to glean
  • Because the ocean is changing so are the merpeople and they and the merologists (those who study merpeople) have to find new ways to work together. 

In the meantime, she has gathered all that is currently known into this highly informative book, a companion to The Secret Lives of Dragons   and  The Secret Lives of Unicorns. Beginning with a section entitled  “What is a merperson?” the reader is introduced to the species, visits the various kingdoms in the world’s oceans and learns about their beliefs, language and so forth. But perhaps the most important section is the final one which examines how and why the oceans are changing , how that is affecting them and what we, as humans, can do to protect both them and their environment. 

Mermaids (and unicorns) continue to be a source of fascination for many, particularly young girls, and this is a really imaginative way to introduce them to the concept of ocean conservation as well as non fiction generally, . To build a complete world in this way, albeit one based on a fantasy, is a clever way to make the reader stop and think about what might live between the waves and pause before they chuck their plastic bag in the water or let their balloons go into the sky.  Somehow it gives a whole new slant on this year’s CBCA Book week theme, “Dreaming with eyes open…”


Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat

Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat

Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat











Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat

Monica McInerney

Danny Snell

Puffin, 2021

256pp.,  hbk., RRP $A19.99


The Christmas break is not working out for Marcie Gill the way she expected or intended.  Her family own the caravan park at Snorkel Bay, SA but rather than being the idyllic time of past summers, this time her mum and dad have had a big argument and her dad is living in one of the empty caravans, her beloved Gran has had a fall, broken her hip and is slowly recovering in hospital and there are big financial worries as well.

Marcie, like most 10-year-olds, prefers things to be predictable but they’re not helped by Fred, her younger brother that we all know and may even be, or Jemima, her tennis-mad older sister who has all the wisdom and arrogance of a new teen but is still just a kid.  It seems Marcie’s only peace comes when she is visiting George, Gran’s beloved cat who has stayed on in Gran’s caravan. However, after a visit to her Gran who gives her a ‘wishing stone”, a treasured family heirloom, things begin to change, starting with George the cat being able to answer Marcie’s questions…

McInerney has turned all her skill and experience in writing for adults in crafting this charming story for children combining a relatable family with all its foibles and flaws with just a teensy bit of magic so it straddles the real-life/fantasy fence just as its intended audience does.  Even the sceptics can suspend their belief to accept the wisdom of George but can argue that the wishing stone is perhaps what Marcie believes rather than having special powers. Because George can only speak if Marcie asks him a question, McInerney has used a smart technique that enables the reader to get inside Marcie’s head as she ponders some questions and articulates others, demonstrating that sometimes adults underestimate not only just how much this age observes of the relationships and events around them but how much they deserve an explanation so they don’t continue to blame themselves or fix what can’t be fixed. While the wishing stone plays its part in the narrative, it also helps us realise that wishes don’t necessarily come true through magic – we can make them come true with some thought, logic, and application. 

Deep thoughts for a book that is, above all, a delightful, well-written read that will resonate with so many, particularly those who have spent time in a caravan park and who will be able to visualise Marcie’s life. The addition of Claude and Helen to the cast adds even more reality, especially Claude’s shyness being overcome by the “public” life of the typical park.

A great read-aloud to start the new school year and to encourage students to set some goals and then develop some plans to achieve them.  



LEGO Harry Potter Hogwarts at Christmas





LEGO Harry Potter Hogwarts at Christmas

LEGO Harry Potter Hogwarts at Christmas













LEGO Harry Potter Hogwarts at Christmas

Elizabeth Dowsett

Dorling Kindersley, 2021

80pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Next year, 2022, celebrates the 25th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and I can still remember receiving a copy and thinking, “Who will read a book with that title.” At the time, I was a member of the UK School Libraries Network and suddenly the chatter started, led by someone who generally annoyed me, but this time I was so grateful I read what he had to say!  It started a love affair with arguably the most enduring characters to have emerged in recent literature which has included many hours spent reading a genre I’m not in love with, and many dollars on the original merchandise – all of which my grandchildren would like left to them in my will!

So to have new things coming out all these years later is wonderful. In this book, we are introduced to Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts, exploring and sharing his excitement at what is effectively his first real Christmas ever. Illustrated with figurines and models made from Lego and including a Harry Potter figurine to use, we get to know the main characters and share their Christmas with them. While it is not a building guide, there are lots of opportunities to be inspired by things to make to build ne or re-create familiar scenes and objects.